The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is pressing ahead with its search for a company to build a 21-mile section of the Interstate 69 extension under a public-private deal that calls for a contractor to line up its own financing to design and build the highway segment, state officials said Wednesday.
Indiana Department of Transportation officials plan to ask interested companies on Thursday to begin providing proof that they could handle the project to extend I-69 from Bloomington to Martinsville by turning a stretch of State Road 37 into a four-lane highway with interchanges and overpasses. A short list of qualified bidders would be released in July.
Gov. Mike Pence told a gathering of more than 200 contractors, designers and financial firms interested in bidding on the contract for the Bloomington-to-Martinsville segment that he's committed to finishing the nearly $3 billion, 142-mile I-69 extension that eventually will run from Evansville to Indianapolis.
"Make no mistake about it, finishing I-69 to me is about promoting prosperity all over our state, and it's for that reason that I find myself deeply committed to this project," Pence said.
The I-69 extension's first 67 miles between Evansville and the Crane area opened in November. A 27-mile stretch that will run from Crane to Bloomington is under construction in Greene and Monroe counties.
That segment is expected to be completed by late 2015, with its first portions opening in late 2014, said Jim Stark, INDOT's deputy commissioner for planning and project management.
While the contractors that built or are building I-69's first 94 miles received state funding for their work, the company that will build the Bloomington-to-Martinsville segment will sign a public-private deal under which it will arrange its own financing to design and build that stretch. The project's estimated construction costs range from $350 million to $500 million.
Indiana would make "milestone" payments to that company during the segment's construction and then quarterly payments for 35 years after its completion as the company maintains and operates the stretch, said Kendra York, Indiana's public finance director.
Indiana devoted about $700 million to I-69 from the $3.8 billion it collected by leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a private operator under former Gov. Mitch Daniels. But that money has already been spent or allocated, leaving the state to find a way to pay for the remainder of the highway.
For the Bloomington-to-Martinsville segment, Indiana has turned to the same public-private arrangement it reached last year with a group chosen to build a new $763 million Ohio River bridge between Indiana and Kentucky.
Eighteen companies responded to the state's request in December for parties interested in tackling the Bloomington-to-Martinsville project.
Stark said a short list of qualified bidders for the highway segment will be released July 30 and the state will ask them in October to submit their proposals by January 2014. The state's announcement of its preferred contractor for the job will be announced next February, he said.
The Indiana Finance Authority would then have to approve that deal, which could be completed by next May, Stark said.
INDOT commissioner Mike Cline told the prospective contractors who gathered for Wednesday's presentation that Indiana needs their innovations and ideas for quickly building the 21-mile stretch at lower cost to taxpayers.
"Help us to find a way to go fast, help us to find a way to take cost out of the project, to reduce the impacts of construction, help us be creative," Cline said.
He said completing that segment would help alleviate congestion in the Bloomington area and improve safety along the still-developing highway.
Indiana is still working on its plans for building the remaining I-69 segment that will complete the route and run between Martinsville and Indianapolis.
Pence reiterated Wednesday that his administration has no plans to use tolling on the I-69 extension.